Chicago has embraced the food hall concept and I am here for it.
After years of admiring/jealous visits to cities with thriving food halls (I’m looking at you, San Francisco’s Ferry Building, Vancouver’s Granville Island Public Market, New York’s Chelsea Market, Napa’s Oxbow Public Market, L.A.’s Grand Central Market, Cleveland’s West Side Market, and virtually every city in Europe), I’m proud to say that the hometown team is finally swinging for the fences — and mostly connecting.
To be clear: A food hall is distinct from a food court. “All of these food halls have a similar theme,” says Andrew Fayn, an urban planner based in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, on culinaryplanning.com. “They support locally owned businesses and chefs, and do not cater to national or international chains. They also have businesses within the hall that not only provide ready made food, but culinary products and wares to take home.” Joe Gose, writing in the New York Times last September, adds that many of these new food halls “celebrate quirkiness versus uniformity, and their ability to draw crowds is particularly appealing to landlords battling the growth of e-commerce and changing shopping habits.”
What better way to get the chance to sample so many different hip and happening local places under one roof? Craig Golden of 16” On Center, the developer of Chicago’s Revival Food Hall, thinks a food hall is forged by a cohesive group of vendors that create an environment that is then marketed to the public as a collective. “There’s more of a commonality to it,” says Golden. “More common seating, the vendors might share some services, too. There’s a cohesiveness as opposed to a group of restaurants facing inwards,” like at a traditional mall food court.
The food hall is the perfect antidote to work lunch doldrums. It’s hard to get bored when you can choose from a different menu every day. And sure, you could just pull up an app and order in for lunch, but isn’t it better to take a break, get up off your duff, and take a brisk walk to one of these fine, year-round establishments and support local businesses? That’s a rhetorical question, folks. Of course it is!
131 N. Clinton, Chicago, 312-575-0306
Tucked under the Ogilvie Transportation Center, you’ll find the grandpère of Chicago food halls. Founded by the Parisian Bensidoun family in 2009, the Chicago French Market had a slow start, but is now a rocking scene, with about 7,000 visitors each weekday. There are more than 30 local artisan vendors here, including Beaver’s Donuts, Flip Crêpes, Da Lobsta, Loop Soup, Pastoral, Raw, Saigon Sisters, and Vanille Patisserie. Commuters can grab breakfast on their way out the door, or pick up market-fresh produce and meats for dinner, or prepared food to go. Closed Sunday.
43 E. Ohio St., Chicago, 312-521-8700
This is your go-to for all things Italian, from LaVazza espresso drinks and coffee to fresh gelato made in-house; imported dried pastas, sauces, olive oils, and vinegars in ridiculous abundance; pristine seafood and shellfish; freshly baked breads and focaccia; and cheeses, salumi, and more, all crying out to be flung in your shopping cart. Does shopping make you hungry? Not a problem. La Pizza & La Pasta is the place, not surprisingly, for Neapolitan-style, wood-fired pizza and perfectly al dente pasta, while Il Pesce is seafood-centered, and the Birreria serves Eataly’s own microbrews and other artisanal beers along with a brew-“hoppy” menu that includes lovely arancini (filled risotto balls) as well as meat and charcuterie plates. Italian housewares, candy, sweets, and more tempt you on your way out. Look out for the $100 bag of groceries, as it all adds up fast. Open daily.
835 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago, 312-335-3663
In truth, this is the oldest food hall in Chicago, as it’s been open on the mezzanine of Water Tower Place for a few decades. The brainchild of Rich Melman and Lettuce Entertain You, it has evolved with the times. Grab a card as you enter, and at each different booth, order what you like, and “charge” it to the card; eat your meal, then pay on the way out. Choose from barbecue, comfort food, sushi, Big Bowl’s Asian favorites, New York-style pizza, salads, tacos, stir-fry, and soup. No need to feel constrained to one genre! Sacred Grounds, located in front of the Foodlife space, is pouring Intelligentsia and serving up fresh-baked pastries and other goodies. Open daily.
55 E. Monroe St., Chicago
The Loop’s newest food hall offering opened for business in October 2017, but only for breakfast and lunch. You’ll find it on the concourse level of this building in the heart of the Loop, and unlike other food halls, you don’t order directly from the individual operators, but rather from one of the “easy-to-use” digital kiosks scattered throughout the space. One important thing to note before you go: This is a cashless operation, meaning only credit or debit cards accepted. When your order number pops up on the flatscreen, it’s time to head over to the restaurant to pick it up. You’ve got options: bespoke sandwiches and burgers from the Butcher & Larder Grill; South Loop fave Flo & Santos’ tavern-style pizza and Polish classics; Friends Sushi and Ramen; Mercadito Taqueria Mexican delights; Pork & Mindy’s creative BBQ; and Sparrow Coffee, among others. Monroe Street Market offers grab-and-go treats and local products. Something cool and different is the Apron Exchange, which is a rotating incubator for local women- and minority-owned businesses, likewise a rotating pop-up restaurant to change weekly. Closed weekends.
100 E. Algonquin Road, Arlington Heights, 847-956-6699
This giant and somewhat overwhelming store (especially if you don’t speak Japanese) hosts a large modern supermarket, a bookstore, hair salon, and cosmetics counter in addition to a food hall that features Sanuki Seimen Mugimaru udon, Santouka Ramen, B-Bee Crêpe and Boba; Ten-Don Hannosuke Tempura; Nagomi sushi; Royce’ chocolate; and Lady M Cake Boutique for a start. Truly one-stop shopping and a great field trip with the kids. Open daily.
125 S. Clark St., Chicago
Take one historic, Daniel Burnham-designed Loop building, add the creativity of the 16” On Center, the team that brought you Longman & Eagle, Dusek’s, Board & Beer, SPACE, Moneygun, Thalia Hall, etc., a fabulous location, and 15 incendiary independent restaurants, and the result is magic. You want poke? Aloha Poke Co. Tacos? Antique Taco Chiquito. Ramen? Furious Spoon. Fried Chicken? The Budlong. BBQ? Smoque. Pizza? Union Squared. Got a sweet tooth? Look no further than Mindy Segal’s famous HotChocolate Bakery. Craft cocktails are poured at the Revival Café-Bar, and they are strong. The pop-up restaurant is changed out quarterly — currently, Rogers Park’s bopNgrill’s awesome burgers and kimchi fries are available; starting April 1, look for the Honey Butter Fried Chicken/Sunday Dinner Club team to make their mark with TriBecca’s Cubanos. Closed weekends.
354 W. Hubbard St., Chicago, 312-888-9195
Brendan Sodikoff’s Hogsalt Hospitality owns some of the hottest places in town, including Au Cheval, Doughnut Vault, Bavette’s, Maude’s Liquor Bar, Green Street Meats, and Sawada Coffee. So when a number of different restaurants didn’t take off in the space, Sodikoff reconcepted, building on all the things that did work: his greatest hits from other properties. 3 Greens Market was born and it’s killing it on the daily. A hot and cold by-the-pound, help-yourself food bar serves up organic egg white frittatas, maple-glazed bacon, and more at breakfast and brunch; fried chicken, lasagna, Thai tofu curry, brown rice pilaf, soups, etc. and a crazily comprehensive salad bar for lunch and dinner; Small Cheval burgers and fries; Dillman’s pastrami on rye; assorted Doughnut Vault goodies; and delicious coffee drinks and cocktails on the liquid front. You will not go hungry.
801 Civic Center Drive, Civic Center Plaza, Niles, 847-581-1212
This is a cultural experience as well as a supermarket/food hall visit, as most people will be exposed to a plethora of ingredients that they’ve never seen before. Walking through the supermarket is absolutely a must, and they have a nice selection of prepared foods packaged to go. But then immediately repair to the food hall, where you’ll find the freshest sushi, steamed Korean Mandoo dumplings, fresh house-made noodles, ToreOre’s crispy Korean fried chicken, bulgogi, and a Korean bakery. Extra bonus: Hit the King Spa next door afterward to unwind.
On the horizon:
- Wells St. Market: Located at 205 W. Wacker Drive, this 10,500-square-foot space is due to open in spring 2018 after a few delays. Look for Jimmy Bannos (Purple Pig), Shin Thompson (Furious Spoon), Jeff Mauro (Pork & Mindy’s), and Takashi Yagihashi (Slurping Turtle) to be opening food stalls here.
- Beacon St. Market: This small food hall will open in Uptown at 1325 W. Wilson Ave. with Nashville hot chicken from the Budlong, the BBQ Supply Co., corned beef sandwiches and more from Norm’s Deli, and al fresco dining and a weekend local market on The Patio. Target date: summer 2018.
Julie Chernoff, Make It Better’s dining editor since its inception in 2007, graduated from Yale University with a degree in English — which she speaks fluently — and added a professional chef’s degree from the California Culinary Academy. She has worked for Boz Scaggs, Rick Bayless and Wolfgang Puck (not all at the same time); and sits on the boards of Les Dames d’Escoffier International and Northlight Theatre. She and husband Josh are empty nesters since adult kids Adam and Leah have flown the coop. Rosie the Cockapoo relishes the extra attention.